We have all had that conversation with friends, family, and even in our own minds have pondered the validity of the "What if you go to Hell?" scenario.
Images of devils, demons, exposed human flesh to flame, faces twisted in torturous poses, evil looking imps in observant reveries of delight. The overall themes being rejection, exile, physically unbearable pain, retribution, and guilt. Through many belief systems, Hell is a common thread that most agree upon.
As an atheist, I really do not see the concept of Hell as anything more than a flawed tool in the arsenal of the religious that relies on a couple of very subjective assumptions about humanity in general, and when it comes up in discussion, I usually have some type of smart sarcastic reply to answer the "What if". Lines like,"Well, if I am in Hell, then Dahmer can't eat my brains while I sleep, and I certainly will be lucky to miss Hitler's company.", or "There are questions I have wondered about for years, and to have an eternity to speak with Wilde, Nietzsche, and Plato sounds exciting."
I am very much more serious than this when actually discussing the notion of Hell amongst those who seriously wonder what my rationale is. When approached with a grave concern for my eternal soul, or a philosophical discussion regarding Hell, I do not polish up quirky one liners and zingers to engage in this type of thought. It's inappropriate. I've seen several postings now by several blog owners about Hell, some like the Friendly Atheist, just wonder what everyone's thoughts are, humorous or not. Or you have bloggers like the Atheist Apologist who looks at how talking about Hell really is talking about the existence of God. It's a fascinating topic no matter the perspective.
So, without further adieu, here are my thoughts on Hell. And by the way, I'm taking it from the perspective that it were real, completely playing Devil's advocate... hahah.. I see what I did there.
The question of Hell, and what if I end up there is not a very pleasant thought. In all seriousness, Hell would be beyond imagining one of the worst experiences ever brought upon humankind. In fact, on some levels, before ever arriving there, the mere shadow of it being hung over one's head can be devastating. The specter of Hell is an insidious one in culture and relationships. Hell, by definition is a separation from love, reward, acknowledgement. To understand Hell, you have to examine Heaven. In the Christian cultures, you are transported to a magnificent place where you have eyes for no one but God. You worship him in appreciative and mutual love for all He has provided you. A true joining of creation with its creator. It also made abundantly clear in several passages within the Bible that the relationships you had on the material Earth are pretty much dissolved. Everyone loves everyone (not sexually mind you). Everyone happily praises the creator. Bodies are no longer their earthly form, damage no longer present, a renewed form. A form of what? We do not know, but scripture does talk about us holding palms within our hands at His throne, so I know we at least have some assemblage of fingers and hands...which sounds awfully fleshly for what Jesus describes as our being "like angels in heaven."
Okay, I'm not being fair on that last little quote. I agree, Jesus was referring to our relationship with God, and that we would be like angels in Heaven. That doesn't sound good, does it? To be angelic is to be a further servant. Heaven, while amazing and wonderful, will still be a servitude, but we will be too entranced to care; our individuality is gone. Kind of sounds like the euphoria one experiences at a rock concert, doesn't it? Just imagine that rock concert going on FOREVER.
In fact, in Revelations, there is a pretty crystal clear description of the mentality of Heaven:
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelations 21:4
This is a very telling psychology of man being played out in this verse. We associate mourning, crying, and pain as negative things, but the rational person also realizes that without these negative experiences we couldn't develop appreciation for other more positive things, like change for example. Heaven's elimination of man's very naive perception of negative concepts, brings an end to change. It brings evolution of who we are to a full stop. Heaven says this is God's limit. Yes, we have found a limit within Heaven's ethereal plane. Disturbing isn't it?
Now, let's look at the other pole of doctrine. The landscape of all the aborted negativity. Hell. Here we can expect torments of varying levels. We can expect separation from those we love. We can expect madness, torture, and depression of being rejected. What I didn't expect was that we will keep our individuality. Our earthly desires, passions, hates, loves, motivation, and instincts to desperately survive will remain intact. Our mortal psyche is not limited.
I think this sums up my thoughts on what Hell would be like here: In Jacob's Ladder, Louis, the main character's friend, quotes Meister Eckhart: "You know what he [Eckhart] said? The only thing that burns in Hell is the part of you that won't let go of your life; your memories, your attachments. They burn 'em all away. But they're not punishing you, he said. They're freeing your soul. ... If you're frightened of dying and holding on, you'll see devils tearing your life away. But if you've made your peace then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth". I agree with the first sentence. After that, it doesn't make much sense since damnation is eternal. You are not being freed. If the bad is completely burned away, why would you not be released? You are going to be thankful they rid you of your evil and THEN being thankful for being punished for a crime you understand you had already been punished so much in order to forget? Logic out the window.
Individuality will still be intact while in Hell. So, I will retain my individuality. While it might be an eternal torment, and a fiery burning one at that, to know I will be able to remember everything from my life - good and bad - sounds like a better outcome than the hard drive restructuring the ones up in Heaven will receive; only having eyes fro their creator. The pain and tears I would be forced to endure while being burned will not temper the sweet tasting wine of my humanity of the love and experiences I was fortunate enough to have been a part of. Therefore, Hell is not impossible to overcome. Just one more flaw in religion's doctrine that demonizes the very traits of a mankind that effects change in humanity. A doctrine that demonstrates an incredible misunderstanding of the benefit of these so called "sins" while teaching the ultimate reward is to reach a state of a hive driven permanent constant.
I will take the remembrances, and like the sulfur riddled lakes of Hell's lava pools, I will wash their raw beauty over my mind, relishing every failure and latter triumph that made me who I was.